Versus Sports adds four Madden pros to join Stiff

The Madden Championship Series will have paid out $1 million this year to players after the championship last May. Electronic Arts

Esports organization Versus Sports announced Wednesday it has signed four additional Madden pros, upping its stable of Madden players to five total. Joing is Taylor "SpotMePlzzz" Robertson, Lavar "Mr. Hollywood" Gayle, Mark "Schemin" Samuels Jr., and Ryan "Strafing" Danczak. Versus Sports had signed Madden 2016 champion Frank "Stiff" Sardoni Jr. in September of 2016.

"I made an early bet on EA Madden and was the first team to sign any Madden athlete with Stiff last year. Since then, EA has invested $1M into Madden esports via their Competitive Gaming Division" said Manny Anekal, CEO and founder of Versus Sports.

In 2016, the Madden Championship aired on ESPN2, and this year on the NFL Network. According to Nielsen, this year's Madden Championship ratings were down by 100,000 viewers, but EA is not deterred as the community continues to grow.

"If you have a day job like I do, then also qualifying, competing, streaming and promoting yourself via social media is another job in itself," said Schemin, who recently took second during the Madden 17 49ers Club Series Championship. Now that Schemin is a part of Versus Sports, much like a professional athlete, all the brand and sponsorship stuff is taken care of by his new team. "Being able to use 100% of my energy to practice, compete and promote myself via social media... that's hundreds of hours of time saved," he said.

SpotMePlzzz, who won the Madden 17 Classic, echoed the sentiment, saying with Anekal's 10-plus years on the business side of gaming, he's free to put his energy elsewhere. "I can focus on my game and trust someone to focus on the business side."

Players like Schemin and SpotMePlzzz are treating Madden like a traditional sport in the sense that training and practice, as well as mental conditioning, need to be honed before competition. EA, too, has been working on making the game more viewable for larger audiences.

The uniqueness of watching two players duke it out in Madden versus an actual NFL game is the metagame taking place. Instead of the New England Patriots vs the Houston Texans, it's custom teams made from players of all eras and teams. Think of Madden as a deck building game where players build their perfect team and are playing a game of football chess.

And according to EA, the growth in popularity of Madden is fostering a new generation of fans of the NFL, and introducing kids to the greats of past generations.

"I love my new teammates. Each one works as hard as the next," said Stiff. While competitive Madden is a one-on-one affair, Stiff has plans to work with his new teammates to foster a spirit of cooperative growth. He isn't worried that scrimming together will give his teammates too much matchup experience against him.

"There is no I in team," said Stiff. "Being part of a team means doing whatever you need to do in order for the team to prosper. We all want to win but we are a unified team and a win for Looks Versus Sports is a win for all of us."